By Paul Gable
Recently released reports of a Federal Transportation Authority inspection of Coast RTA highlight the problems inherent in a multi-jurisdictional authority that spends public money.
The FTA inspection occurs every three years. In 2011, the FTA inspection noted four “findings” of problems at Coast RTA. The 2014 inspection listed 17 “findings. The two most problematic findings are the bus fleet and maintenance shop are literally falling apart.
Those inspection results are noteworthy because Horry County increased its funding of Coast RTA from approximately $400,000 to $1.06 million in the fiscal year beginning July 2011.
County funding increased by 250% and more money was available from federal matching grants over the last three years, but the problems at Coast RTA were exacerbated during that time.
Such is the paradox of a multi-jurisdictional authority.
According to state law, each local government within the Coast RTA service area is entitled to at least one representative on the Coast RTA board in addition to three board members appointed by the legislative delegation, regardless of the funding provided by these different entities.
The Coast RTA board hires the agency executive director who hires the other employees.
The disparate board members meet once a month to consider items on an agenda essentially prepared by the executive director, who also oversees the expenditures of the agency. The oversight for running the agency and spending the money in its budget is two steps removed from the public agencies who provide the tax dollar funding.
Often, if a board member asks hard questions about the operations, expenditures, direction or any other facet of the agency, he or she is labeled a “troublemaker” with resultant attempts to ostracize that member. (We have seen this happen recently at both Coast RTA and the Horry County Solid Waste Authority.)
Yet, it is often that board member, asking those hard questions, who is best serving the public interest.
Too often, board members of these multijurisdictional authorities act like sheep, allowing themselves to be herded in whatever direction the executive director chooses. They have no “skin” in the game and it’s not their money they are being guided to spend.
The result is the kind of mess Coast RTA now finds itself in.
Public tax dollars have been wasted, the agency is in worse condition than it was three years ago and the ability of Coast RTA to continue to provide publicly funded transportation must be questioned.
When Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus appointed a special committee to look into some of the Coast RTA programs several months ago, he was criticized in certain areas for overstepping his boundaries and “picking on” then Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins.
However, Lazarus took a step in the right direction attempting to determine if further funding of Coast RTA was really in the public interest. Now, we see even Lazarus had no idea of the problems at the agency even though his attempt at oversight was laudable.
Ultimately, oversight of public funds should rest with elected officials, those directly answerable to the voters for how tax dollars are spent.
Doing away with multi-jurisdictional authorities would be a good, first step toward this goal.